As you’re probably aware, February marks the celebration of Black History Month. But did you know that it’s also Heart Health Month? You might be surprised that both have a deep connection to the brain, and the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s team is celebrating this February by bringing awareness to the links between brain health, heart health, and health disparities.
The brain controls all of our bodily functions, breathing, thinking, feeling, even the number of times our heart beats per minute. The heart on the other hand supplies blood and other nutrients our body needs to stay healthy and alive. From a young age, we are actively taught to treat our hearts as organs that require exercise, healthy living, and a healthy diet to remain strong. We know that prioritizing heart health can lower an individual’s risk for all diseases, including dementia and stroke. So, when it comes to disease prevention and healthy living, why don’t we think of our brain like we do our heart? Research suggests that positive heart healthy lifestyle changes can mitigate brain health risks for diseases like Alzheimer’s. According to the SPRINT Mind Study, intensive treatment of blood pressure (BP) with a target of less than 120 mmHg could result in reduced risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment and dementia.
As we explore the connections between our brain and heart, we must consider the barriers that exist in many communities to quality care, research, and prevention resources. These barriers can include lack of access to healthy food, clean water, exercise, and control of other diseases like diabetes. Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth-leading cause of death for older African Americans, and this is in part because African Americans are twice as likely to face common heart-health issues and comorbidities which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Latinos face similar risks and are one and half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than non-Hispanic whites. Despite these troubling statistics, African Americans and Latinos living with Alzheimer’s are, on average, less likely than white Americans to be diagnosed by a healthcare professional.
Social determinants shape how individuals learn and engage in the health system. External factors such as access to health care services, quality education, health information, and even transportation can affect the quality of an individual’s health outcome. These factors have also shaped significant racial gaps among diagnoses in Alzheimer’s and dementia, access to treatment, quality care, clinical research and trial participation. All people should have an equal opportunity to age well and have good health.
Black History Month reminds us of the opportunity to learn from civil rights leaders and those that have trail blazed a path to greater health equity and access to care.
This February, we must remember that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.